Pandemic destroying plans of older workers

Research shows older people are most at risk of unemployment because of the pandemic.

Older workers at greater risk

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) has released research that shows older people and those without qualifications beyond high school are most at risk of long-term unemployment because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott said the analysis showed that about 40 per cent of those people who lose their jobs are at risk of staying unemployed.

“So, we want to make sure that as part of our recovery we really target those high-risk people. People who are over 55, people with low skills, and make sure that our skills system helps people get those new skills so they can get back into work.”

Before the government introduced its stimulus packages, BCA figures suggested 2.3 million full-time workers would lose their jobs, representing about 20 per cent of the workforce.

The new research shows that, of those who would have lost their jobs, 38.9 per cent were aged over 50, while 35.8 per cent were aged between 30 and 49. Only 25.3 per cent were in the 15 to 29-year-old age bracket.

More than 44 per cent of those forecast to lose their jobs would have had no qualifications beyond high school.

The Australian Council of Social Service’s Faces of Unemployment 2020 report, prepared just before the onset of COVID-19, concluded: “More people who are unemployed are middle to mature-aged (41 per cent of recipients aged 25-44 and 48 per cent over 45) than most people think”.

“The labour market has changed, so that jobs that were previously available to people with similar characteristics to today’s recipients of unemployment payments (especially those with lower qualifications) are harder to get, and harder to keep,” the report stated.

In late 2019, there were eight people unemployed or underemployed (seeking more paid working hours) for every job vacancy.

“For entry-level jobs, competition is tougher, with around a third more unemployed or underemployed applicants for every job.

“Entry-level jobs are increasingly part-time or casual jobs. While many people prefer shorter or flexible working hours, this makes it harder for people to transition from unemployment payments as they either have insufficient paid hours or are at risk of losing their casual job. Australia has the second-highest share of casual jobs in the OECD (25 per cent) and third-highest share of part-time jobs.”

The ACOSS report called for reform of employment services; commitment from employers to do the best for current and prospective employees, and a higher unemployment payment.

The BCA believes the simplification of retraining is vital to avoid long-term unemployment numbers rising.

“On skills and education, our priority is a system that enables people to rapidly upskill as the world of work changes ... we need to urgently simplify the system so people can study in modules or micro-credentials when, and how, they need ...”

The Grattan Institute’s report, Shutdown: Estimating the COVID-19 Employment Shock, states that about 40 per cent of workers on the lowest incomes are likely to lose their job during the crisis.

“This group includes workers who make less than $150 per week in personal income. By contrast, people earning more than $3000 per week have less than half the risk of losing work. We find that the lower a person’s income, the more likely it is that their job is at risk as a result of COVID-19 and the public health response to the virus.

“This is because people who work in occupations where they are close to others are more likely to become unemployed.

“The most heavily affected industries tend to have lower wages than industries like professional services, where fewer jobs require proximity to other people and more can be done from home. People on lower incomes are less likely to have enough money in the bank to see them through a period of unemployment. This means that financial support from government will be essential to see these workers through the pandemic …

“While many higher-income Australians will have substantial savings … about 40 per cent of the highest fifth of income earners have less than four weeks’ income in the bank. Most people’s financial commitments – especially rent and mortgage repayments – match what they earn.”

Ms Westacott is advocating industrial reforms, taxation changes and the simplification of the “complex” awards structure to aid Australia’s COVID-19 recovery. But she also wants to continue the cooperation that has marked Australia’s early response to the crisis.

“Let’s not surrender the cooperation and shared interests we have established in managing this crisis and remember that secure work comes from secure and successful businesses working with their employees.

“Unemployed people need a system that assists them to rebuild their confidence, reskill and retrain, so they can reconnect with the workplace and experience the dignity of work.”

Have you had trouble finding work? What do you think is most important to create jobs for older workers?

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    To make a comment, please register or login
    29th Apr 2020
    And while the redundancies go on a 65 year old friend of mine on new start is being asked
    to attend a recruitment agency !!!
    29th Apr 2020
    Unfortunately attemding the agency is part of the process. There is no discrimination for age etc. Everybody is sort of treated the same. During this time though the meetings will most likely be over the phone. After May 22, things will ramp up. Try and talk to your friend to look into 15 hours a week of doing recognised volunteer work. the op shop is a popular place for starters. Once that is secured they will not need to look for work. The 15 hours will meet the "Mutual Obligation" of being on Jobseeker for people over 55.
    29th Apr 2020
    Thanks Leek, your advice appreciated.
    29th Apr 2020
    This is already rampant, and will be more so when we get back to normal (and use that word loosely). And is being practiced even now. Being a fit, active and not ready for the box 6 foot under, I got speaking to my next door neighbor who holds a senior position in one of my local supermarkets. I asked her about applying for a position as a casual packer - positions they were wanting to fill. I could happily do that for a few hours a week.
    She seemed a bit reticent, but explained that I would not be considered. Not due to my age exactly, but because my age group (I'm 67) is classed as high risk, and they are permitted to select applicants based on risk of health exposure.
    This will become more prevalent from now, especially with positions with allot of public exposure, close office proximity, and interacting with people. Employers will be reluctant to take on senior workers.
    29th Apr 2020
    I've heard there is a cut off age for Workcover also (not sure what age that is)
    Horace Cope
    29th Apr 2020
    Hats off to your next door neighbour for her honesty, older & wiser. If she said that in her workplace she would be dragged before tribunals and industrial courts for discrimination. Sadly, this will not become more prevalent because it's been here for many years as those of us who were tossed on the scrapheap in our late 40's, early 50's have found.

    Employers have become smarter with the excuses for not employing an older person having nothing to do with age. This, of course, is assuming that your application was replied to or if lucky enough to be granted an interview that a letter informing you of the result of the interview was issued.
    29th Apr 2020
    I never worked again after being made redundant at 57. I lost count of the jobs I applied for. But every one I didn't get had nothing to do with my age, apparently!! This time there will be so many applicants for every job, let's hope the pension will keep pace with the cost of living for those of us locked out of the workforce forever. PS I cared for my terminally ill partner for 5 years while he succumbed to way I could have gone back to work after that, now at 75 I am happy to be out of the workforce.
    29th Apr 2020
    Life was so much simpler before Centrelink. While I have never been unemployed myself one of my brothers, an A-grade electrician, was made redundant at age 61 (actually he volunteered so a younger person with a growing family could keep their job). This was about 22 years ago. He went on the dole until he was 65 and qualified for the age pension. The predecessor to Centrelink paid him the dole without any requirements to seek work or do voluntary work. Effectively they wrote him off and concentrated on younger unemployed who had a realistic chance of being employed. If only that systems was in place today would may make it much easier for the older unemployed.
    29th Apr 2020
    I consider myself to be extremely lucky. Not only have I still got a part time job three days a week at 77 but my employer also arranged for me to work from home when this crisis started. It infuriates me when I see and hear of people being consigned to the scrapheap in their 50s +. There's life (and value) in most of us well past that age bracket!
    29th Apr 2020
    Employers take one look at my greying hair and run a mile. I even coloured my hair once. Never again. I love my mixture of grey and black hair. I shouldn't have to colour my hair to get a job. My skin does look young though, so with coloured hair I do look 10 years younger. But they would soon find out my true age. So I just don't bother now. I have a casual job and work when i want, and top up with Super.
    29th Apr 2020
    It saddens me that a piece of paper is al that is required as proof that you can do a job. (excluding the obvious jobs)
    I've worked many a job deemed unskilled at various levels. I've worked alongside those that were young and did hold a piece of paper. I outworked and outpaced the majority of them. However, when times came hard in business and management were making decisions on who stayed and who left, they always kept those with the paper, and none of the actual skilled capable workers. Sadly many businesses have the belief that with youth and a scrap of paper comes logical thinking, work ethics, and fortitude.
    They are run on that premise of education equates with all things clever without taking into account youth gives nothing but experience does. Businesses need to be thinking of having a good mix of workers both in age, skillset, and the enthusiasm of youth.
    30th Apr 2020
    "The Business Council of Australia (BCA) has released research that shows older people and those without qualifications beyond high school are most at risk of long-term unemployment because of the COVID-19 pandemic."


    Did they not notice that these same groups of older and unqualified people were more likely to be long term unemployed before the COVID-19 shutdown?
    usually silent
    30th Apr 2020
    I am over 62 and have several health issues, though not able to qualify for a disability pension. I have been trying for several years to get back into the workforce to secure 15 hours work a week that I should be able to handle. I have found after hundreds of job applications that it is impossible to do that. Surely all mutual obligations and expensive job provider management should cease to be compulsory for over 60s who do not have much prospect of ever finding work and who have several health issues. Up until the Covid 19 pandemic, I was doing 15 hours a week "volunteer" work that was worsening my medical problems as I thought it was a better choice than attending appointments with the stupid consultant I had as a job provider. I would prefer to only apply for jobs I thought I had some chance of being actually able to get and handle. At my age after working most of my life since 18 and managing several businesses until ill health forced me out of the work force and caused me to rely on centrelink I should not need to be forced to "volunteer" or apply for jobs just to justify the government paying the job provider a fee. The younger generation who are unemployed should instead be given the chance and all the resources available in order to start off their careers. In times of high unemployment, the government should stop wasting money on older people who are not able and do not want to compete in this current job market. If things would turn around and there was a shortage of workers, that is a different story - there would be jobs available and I and others like me would jump in by our own choice without governments forcing us to go to job providers.
    30th Apr 2020
    My husband was made redundant at aged 55, after returning to work after a major infection. They put him in positions obviously meant to test his metal and his body, many hours travel away from our home and in lesser positions than he had previously held. The union was hopeless and not interested in helping, after my husband had been a member all his working career. His employers used the excuse of a takeover as reason for "making redundant" he and others they wanted to get rid of. In my husband's case after 11 years of loyal endeavour. We volunteered under our "mutual agreement" with Centrelink, whilst my husband continued to look for work and I had a part-time job. Three years later he managed to acquire a new full-time position, but as his mental state was already overloaded from the stress of so many years out of the workforce, the personal pressure he put on himself and the pressure and lack of support from his new employer drove him to a full nervous breakdown. Thank goodness, due to my receiving an inheritance (of course Centrelink said goodbye to both of us) our shelter is now secure, income from a couple of investment properties acquired since the inheritance and me working part-time enable us to have an ok existence, but anyone who thinks owning investment properties makes you rich, it doesn't unless you can afford 3 properties or more, and we are still too young for any part of the aged pension. Anyway upshot, we have found, that we were on our own and my husband was clearly shown that he was on the scrap heap at 55+. I have seen him change into a different version of the man I once knew, he is still the sensitive soul I fell in love with all those years ago, but his self esteem will never recover, he still talks of when he gets a job, but I personally worry about if it eventuates. The past 6 years has put an enormous strain on me also, and I am older than he. Good luck to anyone who has lost their positions due to the pandemic and particularly to those aged 55 and above

    6th May 2020

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